the day – after months of preparation, my new ERC project DiverseNile is now
officially running under the grant agreement No. 865463! Many thanks go here
first to all the officers in Brussels and the persons here at LMU who made this
possible, even in challenging times like we are all experiencing in the last
weeks. And of course I am very grateful to my core team who supported the application
and without whom this project would not take place!
More information about the main hypothesis and the objectives of the project are now available here. We are still in the process of recruitment and due to the corona crisis this process will take longer than we thought. Nevertheless, for now we can start working at home collecting and processing data which will enable us to challenge the present categories of “New Kingdom”, “Egyptian”, “Nubian” and “Kerma”. Five exciting years have just started!
As already reported, the 2020 test excavations of the MUAFS project focused on Bronze Age sites at Ginis East, including Gie 001, where much Egyptian New Kingdom material was found. The following is a very short summary of our work at the Kerma sites GiE 004, 005 and 006.
In 2019, we assumed
that the site GiE 004 was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s as site 2-T-5.
However, new georeferenced data and fresh GPS waypoints made it clear that this
needs to be corrected and that GiE 004 was not documented by Vila, being
located further to the south than 2-T-5.
The magnetometry survey of the site by MUAFS in 2019 yielded promising results which, according to the finds and the structures visible on the magnetogram, were interpreted as remains of a Kerma village. Rounded huts, fences and walls seemed to be visible. The borders of the wadi systems were also clearly visible in the magnetogram. Our 2020 test trenches were chosen to proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi and whether the interpretation of the anomalies were correct.
Three trenches were laid out (Trench 1: 18 x 3 m, at
the edge of a wadi; Trench 2: 14 x 4 m, at the top of the plateau of the site;
Trench 3: 2 x 3.5 m, within a circular depression around the central part of
the site). After a shallow, sandy surface layer with many finds, no
sedimentation and no structures were found in all three trenches. All features
documented and which were alternating areas of sand and clay are clearly
natural. Thus, the clear result of the 2020 text excavation at GiE 004 was that
the anomalies of the magnetometry were over interpreted as structures and are
actually natural features.
GiE 005 (Vila 2-T-5)
The Kerma site documented by Vila as 2-T-5 was labelled by MUAFS as GIE 005. The site is situated on the alluvial plain, and extends east west on the remains of a shallow, barely visible terrace (25-40 cm high). The site covered in the 1970s an area of c. 500 EW x 35 m NS – part of this is now below modern houses or destroyed because of car tracks. Two test trenches were laid out in 2020 in the eastern part of GIE 005.
Trench 1 (8 x 2 m) yielded some small depressions and pits below a shallow sandy surface. Very few Kerma sherds were discovered in a lower muddy level, without evidence of structures or stratigraphy.
Trench 2 (6 x 3 m) comprised a small sandy hill with many schist stones scattered around. Here again, no structures and no sedimentation or stratigraphy were observed. The sandy hill seems to be a sub-recent assemblage of wind-blown sand. Interestingly, the same muddy layer like in Trench 1 below the sand yielded one single artefact, a Kerma sherd laying on a solid clay surface.
Overall, the camp site 2-T-5 is badly preserved, and no stratification is present, as already observed by Vila. One important result of our work in 2020, however, is a tentative dating to the Kerma Classique period and the presence of 18th Dynasty Egyptian material which has not been noted before. There were some Egyptian wheel-made pottery sherds between the ceramics – nicely datable to the early New Kingdom!
GiE 006 (south of Vila 2-T-5)
Surface finds suggest that the camp site 2-T-5 might also extend further to the south, south of the barely visible terrace of GiE 005. In order to test this, a trench was opened at a site now labelled as GIE 006. Trench 1 (3 x 5 m) only yielded surface finds and showed an irregular muddy, natural surface below the sandy surface layer. As in GiE 005, no stratification is preserved.
Although the finds are mixed and can also be explained with a multi-period use of the site, most of the material belongs to the Kerma horizon. Thus, this is probably an extension of a Kerma camp identical or similar to GiE 005.
In sum, the test
excavations at Ginis East – including the results from GIE 001, provided
important new data on 1) the character of the sites, 2) the dating of the sites
and 3) the clarification that the interpretation of the magnetometry survey
from 2019 turned out to show no actual structures, but different natural layers
at GiE 001 and GiE 004.
As it was already observed by Vila, at many sites on the east bank in the MUAFS concession there is little or no sedimentation preserved. This is an important aspect to consider in our next field seasons – the situation is markedly different on the west bank where we also documented some intriguing Bronze Age sites with mud brick remains. There is still much work ahead of us!
Despite of the recent
developments because of the crisis due to the COVID-19 virus, my new ERC project,
DiverseNile, will start on April 1st 2020 here at LMU Munich. I am very
grateful to the wonderful support of the administrative staff both in Brussels
and in Munich – it was quite a challenge, but now all is set to go!
More information on the project, my team and our intermediate goals will follow shortly – for now I would like to share a new dissemination article in which I tried to highlight the challenges and aims of DiverseNile (read it open access or download it here as PDF).
DiverseNile will be conducted within the framework of the MUAFS project – the Attab to Ferka region in Sudan is the perfect area for our new study.
I believe that in order to address the actual diversity of ancient groups in the Nile Valley a new approach focusing on the periphery and hinterland of the main centres is needed, considering both landscape and people in an integrative method. This is where DiverseNile will step in with our perfect case study between Attab and Ferka. The main objective of DiverseNile is to reconstruct Middle Nile landscape biographies beyond established cultural categories, enabling new insights into ancient dynamics of social spaces. Can’t wait to get started in April!
The world has changed since last week – COVID-19 has a major influence on archaeological fieldwork, universities and museums. MUAFS was very lucky in this respect – after our odyssey with the extra day in Khartoum and a night in Istanbul, we made it safely to Munich, just in time before borders got closed and flights cancelled. Of course all planned fieldwork in Egypt in April had to be cancelled and I could also not make my home visit to Vienna. But difficult times require flexibility and the most important thing now is of course to flatten the curve and to stay safe (and home)!
research for MUAFS is of course still possible and all of us are using the time
in home office for reading things and compiling the data from the 2020 season.
The following is just a short summary of our test excavations of the 2020 season – this season was a preparation season for the next, longer field season which will be the start of my new European Research Council Project DiverseNile. Thus, the focus was on promising sites dating to the Bronze Age/Kerma Period in the Ginis East area where also Egyptian presence of the New Kingdom is attested.
In order to get familiar with the site formation processes and sedimentation in the area, we conducted at four sites in the district of Ginis East small test excavations. A total of 8 trenches were excavated by the team; local workmen will be engaged in the next season.
As you will see in the following – the results from the individual sites were not as we hoped for but are nevertheless very important outcomes of what was designed as a test season.
I will start with site GIE 001 and a separate post will present the results from the other sites at Ginis East.
GiE 001 – a New Kingdom (and Kerma?) settlement site
Recorded by Vila
as 2-T-36B, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian
New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface
finds. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019. In the 2020 season, two
trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the
northeastern part of the site.
Trench 1 (6 x 4
m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma
Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma
Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the
magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which
contrast to clay layers/alluvial sediments.
Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) generated large quantities of ceramics and stone tools from the surface. The main archaeological features found in this trench were sub-recent pits deriving from marog activities. The largest of these pits in Trench 2, Feature 1, is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure. The find material comprised mostly mixed pottery from the New Kingdom, Napatan and Medieval era as well as some recent date seeds and small pieces of charcoal and bone.
Both trenches in GiE 001 did not yield mud bricks or
any structures from the New Kingdom; it is likely that this part with the
trenches is already located outside of the former settlement area. That the
area was inhabited and used during both the 18th Dynasty and the
Ramesside period, becomes nevertheless evident from the find assemblages we
Excavation and processing of data at GIE 001 will continue, but for now the New Kingdom site with later use seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island and Amara West, as I have already proposed in an earlier post based on the finds (ceramics and stone tools).
We should just have landed in Munich these minutes… but since a sandstorm in Khartoum prevented the airplanes to land yesterday, our flight was cancelled and Jessica and me are now stuck in a hotel close to the airport…
Well, we are still waiting for information when we will have the next try and thus I thought I use the time to go through some of the pictures we took this season.
The 4.5 weeks of work at Ginis East and sourroundings were intense and varied, in terms of tasks, weather, nimiti and other things. Here are some impressions with a huge load of thanks to my great 2020 team! Looking much forward to the next season!
2020 season will be officially closed today – we arrived safely in Khartoum
yesterday and will now finish all the paperwork.
The last days at Ginis were busy, finishing off the survey, packing and registering the finds from this season. A more concise summary of the 2020 season will follow shortly, but here are some observations regarding our survey.
Like in 2019, one particular
focus of our survey was on the state of preservation of the sites nowadays –
unfortunately, at almost all sites, we observed modern destruction and/or
plundering. Especially drastic were destructions because of road building, the
electricity posts and modern gold working areas.
One particular striking example is the large tumulus within the Post-Meroitic site 3-P-1 at Kosha East. This monumental tumulus, comparable to the ones at Ferka, but also to the famous tombs at Qustul and Ballana, has completely gone by now. According to information kindly given by local villagers, it was removed in 2008.
Where Jessica is standing in this photo, there used to be an elite tomb monument dating back to Post-Meroitic times. Large parts of cemetery 3-P-1 are now under modern fields; the line of electricity cuts the southern extension of the site. The nearby Kerma cemetery was affected by the construction work of the road to Wadi Halfa and the Neolithic sites located in the hills above the Kosha plain just 300m to the southeast are strongly influenced by modern gold working.
Altogether, as successful as our 2020 survey was, re-locating 40 sites of the ones documented by Vila and finding a number of previously unrecorded sites, we were also faced with very frustrating news and massive destruction of the archaeological monuments. There clearly is the urgent need to undertake cultural heritage actions in the region, but this is something where MUAFS will need help and support from several authorities.
Ferka is the district marking the northern end of MUAFS concession – the area is famous for monumental Post-Meroitic tumuli already excavated by Lawrence Kirwan and a large quantity of Medieval sites, including among other the small mud-brick church 3-G-9.
The elite tombs at Ferka, 3-G-1, are simply stunning – some of them have a height of more than 12m and clearly bear some resemblances to the famous tombs at Qustul and Ballana (see Kirwan 1939).
Rock art is another category that is well attested in Ferka East, most of which seems Medieval in date.
We documented most of Vila’s sites in the area in the last two days; some are still not found and seem to have gone due to modern house building, road construction work and gold digging.Thus, this compares to what we discovered in Ginis, Kosha and Mograkka. But as I have already noted in 2019, the site distribution in Ferka is very specific and is dominated by remains from late epochs, contrasting with other districts of the MUAFS concession.
Apart from the numerous sites dating to the 1st millennium AD, two large Kerma cemeteries, both located in the area of the large wadi, Wadi Sibée, are notable as earlier evidence. One of them comprises c. 20 tombs, the other one up to 40 tombs. We still found Kerma Classique ceramics associated with both cemeteries. This suggests a late date within the Kerma period fo these burial grounds. It is still an open question where contemporaneous camp sites or villages are located – the majority of domestic Kerma sites is situated in Ginis and Kosha, thus further upstream. These are important questions we will address within the framework of the ERC project DiverseNile which will soon be launched in Munich.
We will finish our 2020 survey in the next days, working a bit more in Mograkka and Kosha. Since Friday, we are fighting with very long power breaks and lacking phone connection and almost no internet access – no ideal parameters towards the end of a season, but we just need to stay patient. Electricity was at least working for a few hours over night, allowing recharging our equipment. So all set for another full day of archaeology tomorrow!
P.S.: and since this blog post did not go live yesterday as planned, it is actually already tomorrow and we will soon start another day!
Kirwan 1939 = Kirwan, L. P. 1939. The Oxford University Excavations at Firka. London.
already approaching the end of our second season of the MUAFS project.
As planned, we finished our test excavations at GiE 001 and GiE 004 earlier this week and were then busy with surveying areas of the concession on the East bank.
The marog digging activities at GiE 001 were fully documented and surface cleaning at GiE 004 yielded some interesting information regarding the possible function of the site where Kerma Classique material dominates the assemblage.
Thanks to the introduction by Cajetan before he left to Munich, we are also up-to-date regarding our 3D surface models and digital documentation– Jessica managed the processing with PhotoScan and QGis very well.
Three days of survey at Ginis, Kosha and Mograkka were exciting, but also partly very frustrating – we relocated a total of 27 sites documented by Vila in the 1970s, but unfortunately a number of these have been completely destroyed, especially because of the road construction work of the asphalt street going to Wadi Halfa. This holds in particular true for cemeteries laid out on sandy plains and alluvial platforms.
Further destruction is caused by modern gold mining and some areas of the region have been completely modified since the 1970s, making a crosscheck with Vila’s documentation sometimes were difficult. Sites located further into the hillsides were in most cases more lucky and still represent excellent example for the occupation of the region. We documented camp sites from various periods, especially Neolithic times and Kerma periods, but very often also multi-period sites.
An unexpected discovery was a small stone pyramid at Kosha East – I simply did not know that one of these pyramidal memorials set up by the British in Sudan and of which I have already seen quite a number further north, was also erected in our concession. Its label reads: „To the memory of British officers and men who died here in the Anglo-Egyptian campaigns”. This memorial is not the only reminder and evidence for the Anglo-Egyptian campaigns in our area – as already observed by Vila, several of our camp sites located in the hills show traces of recent re-use. Many of these sites were probably re-used by the Anglo-Egyptian soldiers. This is one of the more modern aspects of the landscape biography of the Attab to Ferka region which we will also incorporate into our general assessment.
We will continue with the survey next week, focusing now on the area around Ferka – fingers crossed that the storm that came up tonight will hopefully cease very soon.
our test trenches and surface documentation at the Ginis East Kerma/New Kingdom
sites yesterday. The last 6 working days until our departure to Khartoum will
be dedicated to a foot survey – like last year, we will check the sites
recorded by Vila and whether there are more findings, additional sites or other
But back to
the test trenches and our results from site GiE 004 where we documented in
total 5 test areas. 3 were excavated, in 2 we only cleaned the surface and
checked the find distribution/density.
I will deal with the relation between our results and the magnetometry from 2019 in another “Lessons learned from the 2020 season” blog post in the next days – for today, I’d like to share some news about the finds from GiE 004.
we thought that it is a Kerma site with a long occupation. This was partly
confirmed and interestingly, Kerma Classique material dominants the ceramics!
But more important, especially for our investigations of “cultural markers”, is
that 18th Dynasty, Egyptian New Kingdom pottery is also present,
including imported Canaanite amphora and very few Marl clay sherds. A quite
unexpected result, which gives us much food for thought!
look at some basic numbers of finds – of course you have to keep in mind the
differing sizes of our test trenches, but the quantities of stone tools and
pottery are quite significant:
Trench 1 –
stone 3, pottery 5
Trench 2 –
stone 167, pottery 412
Trench 3 –
stone 7, pottery 105
Trench 4 –
stone 242, pottery 991
Trench 5 – stone 110, pottery 503
These numbers support the interpretation that Trench 1 and 3 are located at the edges or even outside the actual site; Trenches 2, 4 and 5 are very similar and all yielded much Kerma Classique material as well as Egyptian wheel-made pottery of the New Kingdom. The majority comes here from Trench 4 where almost 50% of the pottery from GiE 004 was found.
Trench 4 also yielded very nice stone tools, including a wonderful small arrowhead.
although much of the surface material in these trenches from GiE 004 was
wind-worn and eroded as well as mixed (of course, there were also Medieval
pieces present), both the pottery and lithics/stone tools speak for a domestic
character of the site with different activity zones.
two days were really nice – hot and sunny. Today, the weather has changed
again, a very strong wind made work difficult today and the temperatures are
again a bit cooler.
in the field with such a wind was not possible after lunch, I spent this
afternoon playing with some statistics for the two test trenches in GiE 001
where we are currently working.
Of course, any interpretation based on two test trenches only must remain very tentative, but I believe there are already some interesting facts and possible glues for understanding the function of the site. The domestic character of GIE 001 was already noted by Vila and we confirmed its dating to the New Kingdom with a strong Kerma presence in 2019. What new data derives now from our test trenches?
Let’s look at the pottery – the surface material was mixed in both trenches, comprising Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom, Napatan and Christian wares. Many of the sherds are very eroded (wind-worn).
only yielded a total of 328 sherds, of which 13 are diagnostic pieces (4%). 271
pieces from all sherds (83%) can be dated to the Kerma/New Kingdom period.
pattern is repeated in Trench 2 were a larger quantity of pottery was found. As
of today, a total of 3709 sherds were collected, 177 of which are diagnostic
pieces (5%). In this trench, 3203 sherds belong to the Kerma/New Kingdom horizon
(86% and thus the clear majority).
Especially relevant was today’s muddy layer in a deep level which yielded only 13 small pottery sherds, but of which all are New Kingdom in date, 6 wheel-made of the Egyptian tradition, 7 handmade Nubian wares.
most frequent category of finds after pottery are stone tools and lithics.
These were quite numerous, especially in Trench 2, where for example 102 pieces
were collected from the surface layer. The stone artefacts are mostly flakes
and here predominately quartz flakes; very frequent are also fragments from
sandstone grindstones and handmills. A few chert flakes and some pounders and
hammer stones were also noted.
All in all, the stone artefacts seem to attest first of all quartz working and grinding of materials. This fits perfectly to the topographical situation of the site – just south of GiE 001, there is a large quartz vein visible on the surface. And this might very well be connected with ancient gold working like it is well attested in the general region of Upper Nubia and especially around the main centres of the New Kingdom empire like Sai, Sesebi and Amara West.
In the 1970s, Vila documented a gold working site at Kosha East (the neighbouring village of Ginis) where New Kingdom and Napatan ceramics on the surface next to a quartz vein resemble the evidence from GiE 001.
Excavation and processing of data at GiE 001 must of course continue, but for now, this New Kingdom ocupation site seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island. Exciting first glimpses into the use of the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes in the MUAFS concession!